The Message, February 12, 2023: "I Was Wr ... Wr ... Wr ... Wrong," Matthew 5:21-26

The Message, February 12, 2023: "I Was Wr ... Wr ... Wr ... Wrong," Matthew 5:21-26

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
February 14, 2023


“I Was Wr … Wr … Wr … Wrong”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Matthew 5:21-26

            So … before we begin … let me ask, “Does anyone need to leave to go make peace with your brother?”
            “Does anyone need to make amends with their sister?”
            “Does anyone have a beef with your neighbor?”

            We are all good?

            If you do need to run out, just be discreet. Just leave your offering at the altar. We will not look. We will not touch it.

            Also before we start, let me also alert some of the younger folks in the sanctuary and online. I may make a couple of references to older television series, so feel free to fire up the Google app on your phones. I know that they are all on, so be ready. If you would like a head start, you can Google: “Arthur Fonzarelli” and “Eddie Haskell.”

            As we continue in our exploration of the Sermon on the Mount, we have come to a section that many scholars and interpreters refer to as ‘the Six Antitheses.’ This is the section in which Jesus directly addresses some to the ancient laws of the Hebrew people. I only chose to focus upon the first one, but the remaining five follow the same basic pattern.

            “You have heard it said to people long ago, … but I say to you …”

            Jesus is employing a particular teaching method, and it may sound is if he is repudiating the ancient Jewish Law. However, you may recall in our last couple of messages that Jesus told the people that he did NOT come to reject the Law. Rather, he came to FULFILL the Law.

            So then, with that in mind, we can see that in this foundational sermon, Jesus was not rejecting the law. What he was doing was extending the law. He said, “You have heard it said to the people of old, that ‘you shall not murder.’ Yes … murder is bad. Yes … murder is forbidden. It is the worst possible act. But I say to you, ‘Even thinking about murder is also a sin.”

            The ancient law that governed the life of the Jewish people addressed wide variety of activities and behaviors. And he was saying that those behaviors that tore down relationships were definitely bad. But then he went further, he extended the law. He said that even the thought that leads to the behavior is bad. The Law referred to an action. Jesus spoke about the attitude, the content of one’s heart.

            This may come as a surprise to you, but I have never killed anyone.

            But … have I ever been so angry with someone that I wanted to inflict bodily harm?

            Have you?

            Admittedly, Jesus began with the most extreme example to teach this lesson. He knows that most people have not committed the heinous act of murder. But he also knows that most of us have harbored anger in our hearts. Yes, murder is a horrific act that takes away someone’s life. But anger is an attitude that destroys relationships and tears apart community.

            Especially anger that lingers. Especially anger that smolders like the fires of Gehenna. Gehenna was a place of evil, a place of eternal fire where evil doers are punished. It is the dung heap, the garbage dump.

            We may not be angry to the point of committing murder, but anger is a destroyer. Anger is corrosive. Anger builds upon anger. Anger is shared and communicated. Anger is passed down from generation to generation. Anger is inflicted upon those around us.

            Anger bears grudges. “You did something that bothers me, or hurt me, and I am going to hold it against you FOREVER!”

            Anger breeds contempt. The sin of anger is bad, but the sin of contempt is worse. Contempt is rooted in judgement. It is rooted in arrogance. Contempt leads to unequal, imbalanced relationships in which one party believes that they are superior to the other. “I am right, and YOU are wrong!” “I am good, and you are bad!”

            Lingering, smoldering anger can lead to vengeance, retribution and retaliation.

            Now, let me say that Jesus recognizes that there will be times when someone injures us, insults us, or offends us, and our anger will flash. That is a natural human reaction. We even know that Jesus’ anger flashed and flared at times. In this lesson, Jesus is not saying that some anger is good and other anger is bad. All anger does have potential negative impact upon our lives and the lives of those around us. But what Jesus was referring to in this lesson was an attitude of anger. He was referring to people that carry anger around with them.

            This passage followers after Jesus’ declaration that we are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. If we are going to be Light, we cannot allow anger and resentment to close the shutters of our hearts. We cannot allow anger to obscure the Light.

            As light, we are to build relationships. We are to restore relationships that have been damaged. We are to practice reconciliation.

            And that is where grace enters in. That is where the act and heart of forgiveness is foundational. Extending grace, offering forgiveness repairs and restores relationships. Forgiveness breaks the chains that bind the other, and it also releases the chains that bind us. Forgiveness sets us free from the prison of anger and resentment. Forgiveness break hearts of stone and allows new life to grow.

            Of course, the act and offer of forgiveness has to be sincere and genuine. False or performative forgiveness can establish yet another imbalance in the damaged relationship. “Look at me. I am so good that I am offering you forgiveness. I am so gracious.”

            How many of you used to watch, “Leave it to Beaver”? Do you remember Eddie Haskell? He was always so sweet and charming … smarmy … when he spoke to Mister and Missus Cleaver. “Oh yes, Missus Cleaver.” “Oh yes, Mister Cleaver.” But the viewers knew that it was all an act. We knew that he was not sincere. We knew that he was a troublemaker.

            Our apology must not be phony or performative. It must be sincere and genuine.

            And even more, we need to recognize our own need for forgiveness. We need to recognize that there are times when we need to ask the other for forgiveness for something that we have done. And again, it must be sincere and genuine. We cannot offer that phony, empty apology, “I am so sorry that you took what I said the wrong way. I am so sorry that you were offended by something that I did.”

            Those are back-handed apologies that still place the blame or the onus on the other. We need to be willing to say, “I am sorry that I hurt you.”

            We have to consider for a moment that WE might be the jerk in the room. We might be the jerk in the relationship. We might be the one that is causing the other pain.

            That can be difficult to do. We do not like to admit fault.

            Do you remember to old television series, ‘Happy Days’? Do you remember what phrase The Fonz could not say? He could not say, “I was wrrr …” “I was wrrrrrr…” “I was not … the thing that you said.”

            He could not say, “I was wrong.” And many of us have difficulty saying it too.

            However, the foundation to healthy community is upright and healthy relationships. It is possessing genuine care and concern for one another. It is the willingness to recognize our own faults, and to seek reconciliation with those that we may have hurt or harmed. Our willingness to ask for forgiveness releases the other from the anger that they may be holding onto.

            In order for there to be true and genuine reconciliation, there has to be confession. We cannot truly repair or restore a damaged relationship unless we are willing to confess our role, our fault, and our failing. Jesus is telling us that we cannot have a proper relationship with God unless we have a healthy and proper relationship with our neighbors.

            The Sermon on the Mount is the foundation upon which the Kin-dom of God is built. And Jesus reminds us all of the greatest commandment of them all: “You shall love the Lord you God with all of your heart, soul and strength. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Kin-dom of God boils down to that. Love God and love your neighbor. We cannot come before God until and unless we have loved our neighbors.

            We are the ones that erect barriers between ourselves and God by erecting barriers between ourselves and our neighbors. God does not cut us off. God does not push us away. God does not say, “I am sick of that one there!” God is always there waiting, offering grace. We create obstacles. We create distance.

            Restoring and maintaining right relationships means that we have to have the humility to confess that we are wr … wr … wrong. We have to be willing to see that there are times when we are the ones that caused the other pain. And we have to be willing to ask … to beg … for their forgiveness.

            As followers of Jesus Christ, we are light. As light, we are called to take the higher road. We are called to do the better thing. We are called in every instance to practice the Way of Love.
            If we are wrong, we must be willing to confess that.
            If we are wrong, we must be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness.
            If we have been wronged, we must be willing to seek ways to let the anger pass before it turns into something destructive, before it spreads throughout our community.
            If we have been wronged, we must be willing to take the first step toward reconciliation.

            As the Beloved Children of God, as bearers of light, we are called to walk the way of love. Love God with all that we are. Love our neighbors. Every step that we take on the Way of Love invites others to join us.

            Let us walk. Amen.


Congregational Church